Education for the future: foundations (4)

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a hat-tip to the writers of The Second Machine Age

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a hat-tip to the writers of The Second Machine Age

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Teacher – how are your ethics?

I heard someone talking about driverless cars explain that the technical side of things was becoming almost inevitable. In a sense, solving the problem of how to get cars to drive themselves is on its way to being easy.

The hard part is helping the car to decide who to hit if it has an accident.

In an accident a human might have to choose: hit a bus or swerve to hit a car; hit a family on the pavement or a child crossing the road.

These are usually reflex decisions – there may be rights and wrongs but fear clouds judgement and the mistakes people make are inevitable – and ultimately forgivable.

But a car driven by a computer? They might be sent out of control by an accident, but still have billions of computational cycles to make their decision in the seconds before impact. So we can imagine that a driverless car faced with the situation described above could have time to see its options clearly and have time to evaluate them and make a meaningful choice.

What do we teach it to choose? The machine forces us to think harder about our moral choices, as things that weren’t real choices before become so.

And the same is true in education: as things happen faster, as the augmentations (more on augmentation later) expand our power and widen our reach, we ask with greater intensity: who are we empowering? How will they decide to use their power?

When John Acton said “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he was wrong, of course. We can’t hold that view and be in love the idea of empowerment at the same time.

Power doesn’t corrupt, per se, but it is an amplifier. Tools, technologies are amplifiers, multiplying the potential of what’s already there. The more powers we have, the more important the moral foundations of our humanity become.

Crikey, it’s Captain America all over again.

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